CEDAR CITY — Brian Vaughn is a little busy this year at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. He's acting lead roles in "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Fight Loneliness," he's directing "Shakespeare in Love" and he's artistic director of the whole festival.
"Yes, I have a lot on my plate right now, but they're all worthwhile endeavors," Vaughn said in an interview with the Deseret News.
Being able to have this "collective artistic experience" is something he's always enjoyed about the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
After growing up in Phoenix, Vaughn came to Southern Utah University for his undergrad mainly because of the festival. With a professional theater located on campus, he knew he would have the opportunity for professional acting experience as a student.
After school, Vaughn went to work at other theaters around the country but kept coming back to the festival. In 2011, he made the permanent move to Cedar City, and this year transitioned to sole artistic director of USF.
All his other responsibilities just kind of happened.
Vaughn first saw "Shakespeare in Love" in London, and when USF got the opportunity to be one of three theaters to do the American premiere, he was very interested in directing it. He has especially enjoyed producing the play in repertory with "Romeo and Juliet" and on an outdoor stage with an Elizabethan façade — two things most other theaters would not be able to do.
Then, as Vaughn and his previous co-director David Ivers were trying to cast the part of Sky Masterson for "Guys and Dolls," Ivers suggested Vaughn take the part, in what Vaughn called a "somewhat last-minute decision." But, he has enjoyed being a part of a show he called "one of the greatest American treasures."
"It is really the blueprint for an ideal musical comedy as far as book and music score," he said. "It's great to take on a great American musical and bring it to our audience now in 2017."
And Vaughn said he's thrilled to perform in the world premiere of "How to Fight Loneliness" by American playwright Neil LaBute, which runs Aug. 25-Oct. 14. Vaughn will star in the three-member cast as Brad, who is struggling along with his wife, Jodie (played by Tessa Auberjonois), in her fight against cancer.
"'How to Fight Loneliness' is a complex play that deals with end of life and a married couple who's going through a crisis in their lives and how they navigate that," Vaughn said. "I think it's very relevant now when we see the impact that cancer is having in our world and what that says for a couple who are deeply in love when they are at a crossroads with their health and their care."
Vaughn said this year he was drawn to the theme of love and adventure — embarking on uncharted territory — and all the plays in the 2017 season revolve around that. But next season is already on his mind.
The 2018 season has been announced, and Vaughn currently is working on hiring the lead staff. He always works a year ahead, he said.
Some of his goals for USF are already in progress — the company is halfway through its goal of completing the entire Shakespeare canon, including all the history plays in order, by 2023.
His constant challenge is taking these plays from the 16th and 17th centuries and making them relevant to a modern audience.
"We live in a world right now where entertainment is at the touch of our finger," Vaughn said. "It's hard when you're a theater producer and wanting to create an event for people that is about something unfolding immediately in front of you and the collective spirit of coming to the theater. … I think it's an immediate challenge of keeping things interesting and relevant that also have an impact in a world where it may be easier for someone to just go and watch 'Game of Thrones.'"
He mentioned how, instead, they could watch a play that inspired "Game of Thrones" — William Shakespeare's "Henry VI," which USF has on its program for 2018.
"You have to keep tapping on people to say, 'Hey, look how Shakespeare was ahead of his time and also really indicative of who we are now,'" he said.
Ultimately, Vaughn said he's happy with how the Utah Shakespeare Festival has shaped his life and his career. He met his wife at the festival and is now the father of three girls, and they're making their life in Cedar City.
"I've lived in New York; I've lived in Chicago, and there's something about Utah that is just in my blood," he said. "It's a beautiful place to live — wonderful people — and it's great for the creative spirit. I really love it."
And he feels that USF has made him who he is as an artist.
"It's meant everything," he said. "It's been my outlook on life. My viewpoint on what I feel about art has all been engrained in me from working here."